Essays International Text Interviews

Pinochet and the Chicago School

An Interview with Manuel Gárate

by Ivan Jablonka , 11 September
translated by Lucy Garnier

Translated with the support of The Florence Gould Foundation

Manuel Gárate looks back at the economic revolution that has taken place in Chile since 1975, at huge social and political costs. A much-needed perspective in a context where the United States, Pinochet’s former protector, is turning towards populism and protectionism.

Manuel Gárate is a historian and political scientist and a professor at Alberto Hurtado University in Santiago de Chile. His doctoral thesis, completed at the EHESS in 2010, discusses economic change in Chile after the 1973 coup under the influence of the ‘Chicago Boys’, the ultra-free market economists from the famous university in the United States. His publications include:
- La revolución capitalista de Chile (1973-2003) (Santiago de Chile: Ediciones Universidad Alberto-Hurtado, 2012);
- ‘“Ils l’ont attrapé !” Représentations d’Augusto Pinochet à Londres et à l’éveil de l’exil chilien en Europe (1998-2000)’, Nuevo Mundo Mundos Nuevos (2016);
- ‘Augusto Pinochet dans la caricature de presse française et anglo-saxonne, 1973-2006’, Monde(s) 8 (2015);
- ‘El nacimiento de un monstruo. El golpe de estado en Chile y la imagen de Augusto Pinochet a través de las caricaturas de la prensa escrita francesa (1973-1990)’, Caravelle 104 (2015);
- ‘Le 11 septembre “émotionnel”. Ses commémorations à quarante ans du coup d’Etat chilien et le regard d’une nouvelle génération’ in L. Capdevila and F. Langue (eds), Le Passé des émotions (Rennes: PUR, 2014).

Books and Ideas: Chile has a very particular and unequal relationship with the United States, first because for a long time the US viewed Latin America as its ‘backyard’ and second because the CIA fomented and supported Pinochet’s coup in 1973. What’s your view on Donald Trump coming to power? Does his openly declared isolationism seem likely to break with the tradition of interventionism in South America?

Manuel Gárate: Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House hasn’t changed much regarding the situation of countries in South America. The sub-continent is still of secondary importance in the United States’ geopolitical interests, even though, since the early nineteenth century, the Monroe Doctrine has allowed unfettered interference in countries there with a view to avoiding the ‘danger’ of European colonialism.

Today, it is President Peña-Nieto’s Mexico that has experienced the first clashes with the new U.S. administration, which is attempting to dismantle the free trade policies in place since the 1980s. Similarly, the relationship with Nicolás Maduro’s Venezuela seems to have become more strained compared to the Obama era, however the situation there is evolving too rapidly to allow any full understanding of what’s happening diplomatically.

From the early nineteenth century onwards, the U.S. prioritised trade and diplomatic relations with Europe and Asia, viewing Latin American and Caribbean countries as a zone of influence but not a priority for its immediate interests. During the Cold War, only Cuba, Nicaragua and Colombia presented a challenge for the U.S. State Department, due to the threat of a Marxist revolution there.

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Sabadel, La Croix (18/08/1983)

Economically, U.S. interests in South American countries have been characterised by the exploiting of natural resources (particularly after the First World War) and strategically, by the ‘containment’ of communism across the continent after 1945. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 opened a new chapter in the United States’ influence in the region, marked by the end of military dictatorships and support for the democratic transitions that were negotiated. At the same time, the State Department encouraged the Washington consensus policies advocating free trade and the privatisation of state enterprises in exchange for development funds.

Today, for countries on the Pacific Coast that have chosen centre-right or centre-left governments (Peru, Columbia, Chile), the prospect of a protectionist North American government is not good news because their economies have made huge efforts to meet the requirements of international credit agencies, despite popular demand for social protection. Their opening up to international trade depends to a large extent upon trade with the United States. That said, for the first time since 1914, a new power such as China could, to some extent, reduce the region’s chronic dependency on the United States.

Books and Ideas: In your thesis, you study the economic and political influence of the United States in 1970s’ Chile. The ‘Chicago Boys’, influenced by the works of American economists such as Milton Friedman and Theodore Schultz, contributed to radically transforming the country, breaking with the liberal tradition inherited from the nineteenth century. In your view, this neo-conservatism imported from the U.S. – a mixture of the economic doctrine of the free market, political authoritarianism and police repression – is Pinochet’s main legacy.

Manuel Gárate: Chile has changed radically since the 1970s, especially after the 1973 coup. However, from as early as 1960, the Chilean economists trained at the University of Chicago wielded cultural influence, through the conservative newspaper El Mercurio, and established academic hegemony at the Catholic University of Chile. The first generation Chicago Boys formed a young elite of ultra-free market economists who shaped a whole programme of economic liberalisation for the Chilean right wing, but they also had to adapt to other conservative trends in the country (secular nationalists, Catholic fundamentalists, etc.)

The crisis of the Popular Unity government and the 1973 coup paved the way to power for the Chicago economists as the new military regime was looking for an economic programme with clear measures, devoid of any social consensus. They proceeded without opposition for nearly a decade, privatising the main state enterprises and social security (the pensions and health care systems, employment law, among others). The country experienced an economic revolution between 1975 and 1986, but this came at huge social and political costs to the middle and working classes. Opponents met with fierce military repression and police violence throughout the dictatorship (1973-1990). The first years of ‘terror’ gave the economists a free rein when it came to reshaping the economy as they saw fit.

The democratic transition in Chile began in the early 1990s, but military power controlled civilian power until the 2000s, limiting any reform of the economic model inherited from the Chicago Boys. Democratic governments have since made substantial changes, but the core of the model remains almost intact today. The Chilean economy saw high growth figures in the 1990s and 2000s, but with huge social inequalities that ultimately polarised society. The scale of the revolutionary modernisation effected by these U.S.-trained technocrats is undeniable, but it is also important to recognise that this eroded the social fabric and had dangerous consequences for the stability of Chilean democracy.

Books and Ideas: Augusto Pinochet – an army general protected by President Allende, whom he then betrayed – exercised supreme power from 1973 to 1990, before becoming Commander-in-Chief of the Army in the 1990s. How did the democratic transition happen?

Manuel Gárate: In December 2016, Chile commemorated the 10th anniversary of General Pinochet’s death and the 43rd anniversary of the military coup. The country remains divided over its heritage, even though a historical consensus has started to fall into place about its negative influence on the country’s history. It is important to recall that the Chilean dictatorship was not overthrown by military forces and nor was it socially discredited, as was the case in Argentina. After Pinochet’s defeat in the 1988 referendum, where he still won 44% of the vote, the military only conceded a portion of their power to civilian government.

The democratic transition was the result of a permanent negotiation with the military, the right wing and big business having imposed their Constitution and calendar on the democratic forces of the centre left. Between 1990 and 1998, Pinochet remained Commander-in-Chief of the army and was therefore a key factor in military control over politics. His control over civilian power prevented any legal inquiry into the human rights violations committed under his regime.

Pinochet intended to end his days as Senator-for-life until an accident of history changed everything. On October 16, 1998 he was arrested in London at the behest of a Spanish judge for crimes of genocide, torture and the ‘disappearing’ of left-wing activists. At the time, no one could have predicted this given that he had already travelled to the United Kingdom on several occasions without any difficulty. A few hours after Pinochet’s arrest was announced, the country was already tearing itself apart over his fate. The rifts in Chilean society, which had been present since 1973, resurfaced forcefully but the hope that justice might be done started to take shape, at least among the families of Pinochet’s victims. Several military figures faced trials in Chile after 1998, even after the General returned to the country in March 2000, but Pinochet himself was never sentenced by the Chilean justice system.

Pinochet’s death in 2006 brought a long chapter in the country’s history to a close. For his admirers, he had founded a new Chile, both modern and capitalist. For most Chileans, however, he remains the symbol of violence and authoritarianism, who precipitated the decline of a precarious Welfare State founded in the 1930s. This is best evidenced by the lack of any state grave in his name.

Since Pinochet’s arrest in London, several books, films and documentaries about his dictatorship have come out in Chile, in particular the new edition of Carlos Huneeus’ book on the mechanisms of the military regime [1] and Juan Cristóbal Peña’s book about the dictator’s private library, in which the author highlights his considerable intellectual ambition. [2]There is also an excellent three-part documentary entitled ‘Pinochet: the final days’ (2016), which is available on the Chilean national television website.

Outside Chile, the verdict on Pinochet is unequivocal, as evidenced by the negative view that prevails worldwide regarding the events of September 11, 1973 and the repression of Chilean left-wing activists. Beyond disputes among historians about the scale of the repression, Pinochet now belongs to the ‘club’ of the great dictators and tyrants of the twentieth century.

Books and Ideas: You published an important article on satirical cartoons of Pinochet in the international press between 1973 and 2006. [3] How do we laugh about dictators?

Manuel Gárate: Editorial cartoons are part of a long political tradition in the West, stretching back at least to the French Revolution. According to some authors, caricature is a visual art that dates back to medieval iconography, but became a major political weapon in the eighteenth century, at a time when illiteracy still prevailed in European societies. From the nineteenth century onwards, caricature took on an important role in political struggles, in Europe and elsewhere. After the First World War, satirical cartoonists became journalists in their own right. More recently, the events surrounding 2009 Muhammad cartoons and the terrorist attack against Charlie Hebdo magazine in 2015 have revealed both the democratic function of such cartoonists and the dangers inherent to this profession.

Pinochet was a topic of international mockery, particularly due to his tendency to frame himself as a liberator and democrat while thousands of victims were being repressed and exiled. The portrait of him sporting dark glasses, arms folded, and wearing the Prussian uniform, circulated worldwide. It only became possible to laugh publicly about Pinochet in certain Chilean weeklies in the second half of the 1980s and always under the censors’ watchful eyes.

Satirical cartoons mainly represent ‘bad guys’, tyrants, oppressors of the people. Their preferred subjects are dictators, religious fanatics, and authoritarian personalities of all sorts. For cartoonists, there is little point in offering visual representations of ‘good guys’, of honourable and respectable figures, because the satirical cartoon is above all a weapon. It uncompromisingly uses laughter, exaggeration, and deformation, among other tools, to discredit its target. In a way, the cartoonist’s humour is the revenge of the weak, the weapon of the impotent in the face of power; it is a small symbolic victory, compared with the force of reality.

Putin, Erdogan, and Trump illustrate the attraction that such personalities hold for cartoonists worldwide. A few years ago, Pinochet, Thatcher, Saddam Hussein, Gadhafi, and Khomeini were the main figures in the world of caricature. It is surprising to see the extent to which people look to the Manichean struggle between good and evil to explain reality. Unlike historians, who are submerged by the complexity of the past and its multifactorial causes, cartoonists try to simplify things and send a direct message, through a few strokes of the pencil. Denunciation comes before explanation and judgment before understanding: therein lies the strength of this art form.

Books and Ideas: France has just elected a 39-year-old president and the European Union perceives itself as a space of peace and prosperity in an uncertain world. How are France and Europe viewed in Chile?

Manuel Gárate: The place of France in the minds of Chileans has changed a lot. Until the Second World War, France and Western Europe represented a model of economic and cultural development for South America. After the collapse of Europe after 1940, focus shifted to the United States and Europe was left to its past: it was viewed as the foundation of the West, but now incapable of providing a model for the future. The current crisis of the European Union has only served to bolster this verdict even though, in general, France’s strengths in the scientific, military and cultural spheres are acknowledged.

Chile and most of the other countries on the continent are now looking to the Pacific powers (China, Japan, Australia) and leaving aside the Atlantic world and its traditional culture. However, the French political system remains particularly interesting for Chile given the historical similarities between the two countries since the 1930s (the left-right divide, the moderate centre, the role of the social and communist parties, etc.). In certain fields such as maths, the earth sciences and astronomy, France remains a reference, but a far cry from the influence it used to have in literature, law, philosophy, history, economics, and diplomacy between 1820 and 1940.

Today, the Chilean elite is watching the rise of the extreme right in Europe and especially France with great concern because, while Chile did experience a fierce right-wing military dictatorship, that regime did not have a fascist rationale much less an ultranationalist ideology. Paradoxically, the Chicago Boys and their ultra-free market model prevented Chilean society from any closed identity politics. The spectre of a sectarian Europe, entirely closed in on itself, is now an important topic of discussion in our university centres.

To quote this article :

Ivan Jablonka, « Pinochet and the Chicago School. An Interview with Manuel Gárate », Books and Ideas , 11 September 2017. ISSN : 2105-3030. URL :

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by Ivan Jablonka , 11 September


[1Carlos Huneeus, El régimen de Pinochet (Santiago: Taurus, 2016).

[2Juan Cristóbal Peña, La secreta vida literaria de Augusto Pinochet, (Santiago: Debate, 2013).

[3Accessible at the following address: See also the review of Pierre Serna’s book, La Politique du rire (2015) on La Vie des idées: Annie Duprat, ‘Mourir de rire’, November 19, 2015

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